We were prompted to visit the Fort Thanarat Thai Army base, probably the largest in Thailand, after receiving a recent ‘news report’. Perhaps as a result of translation problems, but also in the Thai language version, the ‘news report’ seemed to be encouraging visitors to a tourist resort rather than the base of the Thai Infantry and Armed Forces Preparatory School. An appointment was made for a visit and an interview with the Camp Commander, Major General Nopadon Yimthanom, it’s always wise check out news sources, particularly if something doesn’t sound quite right. After some bemusement at our questions about overnight activities for visiting tourists, we showed Khun Ram (that’s his nickname) our Thai language ‘news item’.
After some amusement at the content, he offered his congratulations for bothering to check out the reality. Camp Thanarat is based on about 600,000 hectares of land, just before Pranburi town with the entrance on the western side of Petchakasem Road. The base is home to around 5,000 soldiers but with their families included there is something like 20,000 people living in a small town with schools, a hospital and markets. With the proper administrative arrangements there is an opportunity for visiting groups, particularly students to get a taste of army life here with a 10 metre jump tower, cliff climbing, obstacle course and target shooting.
There are also some ‘extra curricula’ facilities such as a golf course and sports stadium. The sports stadium has been home to the Hua Hin City Football Club and the golf course is open to the public. To most Westerners the notion of the army managing a golf course may leave heads shaking, but that’s a common feature of many golf courses in Thailand. The nearby Suan Son (Sea Pines) course is just one other example. Another feature of Fort Thanarat is the Army Museum. This is a treasure trove of military memorabilia, with weaponry, uniforms, photos and murals through the ages.
You can see the hand held spears and swords from conflicts between old Siam and Burma. There are also exhibits of Thomson Machine Guns (1920’s), French muzzle loading muskets (1840’s), Winchester rifles (1860’s), French Mauser rifles (1900’s), German Luger pistols, rocket and grenade launchers, Smith & Western and Browning revolvers and even gas masks. Outside there are retired armored army vehicles and heavy artillery. Within the camp’s compound, there is the Memorial Building of Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat, a collection of his biography, past works, clothes and personal belongings. In an enclosed glass cabinet you’ll find a very special automatic weapon.
This was used by H.M. the King of Thailand during his own army training. It’s proudly displayed and showing the royal insignia with photos of the King in action. Major General Nopadon Yimthanom is the epitome of a career soldier. He has been at the Camp for 24 years, rising to the rank of Commander about a year ago. Under his influence, the Camp was been making strides towards greater involvement in the community. His soldiers have been active during any crisis (for example flood management and recue) apart from involvement in border security, the seizure of illegal weaponry, environmental protection and the issue of illegal land encroachment.
His personal ‘non soldier time’ includes boating (he has a boat at the nearby Pranburi Marina) and cycling. The base has a 150 strong club of cycling enthusiasts. Talking about cycling raises his concerns about road safety. The need for the enforcement of the road rules is a subject where he has strong opinions. Fort Thanarat is a real army base. Not a tourist resort but well worth a day visit.
You can move around unimpeded (well almost), check out the ‘army town’ and facilities but don’t expect to check in overnight or have access to restaurants and resorts, just the resident 711! Our thanks to Khun Ram for his personal time and welcome. He promises to invite us to the next happening at the base of interest to readers; it’s an important part of our community.